From the iPhone that I use 50 times a day to the automated appointment reminders my offices has in place, everything these days is becoming digital. If you asked me a decade ago how I was running my practice’s marketing efforts, I would have said the yellow pages was one of the best ways to attract new patients. These days there’s no question, dentists like me need to meet patients where they are most likely to be found: online.
THE NEED FOR CHANGE
For 13 years, the most effective way I knew to attract new patients to my practice was through internal marketing, word- of-mouth referrals, and placing ads in local newspapers, magazines, and even the yellow pages. With technology changing at such a rapid pace, combined with everyone being online, it became clear that it was time for a change. Whatever we were doing then just was not working anymore. The bottom line was, we were not bringing in new patients—we were stagnant.
I knew I wanted more of an online presence. After all, re-search suggests more than 40% of potential new patients will never consider visiting my practice unless I provide them with ample opportunity to research my office online. That included a Web site that would appeal to prospective patients; one that provided not only information on what I do but also who I am as a person. It would include the use of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter to make it easier for my patients to stay connected with my practice by creating an online community.
FiINDING THE RIGHT PATIENTS FOR MY PRACTICE
I never paid much attention to my marketing efforts and their return on investment. I also had a few bad experiences with other companies and just wasn’t getting the type of patients we wanted at the office: patients who would come in for their regularly scheduled appointments and would be able to afford the cost of their treatment. Cash is king and a lot of these patients did not have cash; we were simply too expensive for them. It just didn’t make business sense for us for us to continue what we were doing.
Since the the economic downturn, people everywhere have cut back on many things. Shopping, dining out, family vacations, and other luxuries we did not think about twice before the housing and financial bubbles burst in late 2007 are now more seriously chosen. As you are aware, many dental practices have also been hit by the struggling economy. The stress of unemployment and other concerns have forced many folks to skip visiting their dentist for routine check-ups. The Great Recession was the wake-up call that something needed to happen to get people coming through the door again. I had been considering a couple of alternatives to the traditional advertising tactics I employed for more than a decade, but I also wanted a new Web site and a strong presence on Facebook. In 2008, I spoke with Nancy Lashley, a friend of mine who works at Athena Marketing as well as with Dr. Gilbert Snow, a local orthodontist and a member of Sesame Communications, a company that helps dental practices attract and meet patients online. Both Dr. Snow and Nancy gave Sesame a strong endorsement, and I figured it was an excellent option to help me attract new patients to my practice.
MOST DO NOT ALREADY HAVE EXPERTS IN THEIR OFFICES
Finally, in 2010, after great procrastination and struggling like many of my colleagues, I reached out to the team at Sesame for help with my online presence. I trusted my referrals, just like most people trust friends or family before making a purchasing decision. We know, however, that referrals are not the end-all, be-all when it comes to making a decision to choose a healthcare provider or any other product or service. The 21st- century consumer tends to check the doctor’s credentials, patient reviews for the practice, and more. According to Socialnomics, 90% of consumers trust peer recommendations, and with review sites such as Google Places and Yelp nowadays, asking patients for their online testimonials has become as important as ever.
Obviously, I don’t have office team members who are experts on search engine optimization, Web site development, or social media marketing. Now, I have a dedicated search engine optimization specialist who monitors my progress with keyword ranking to help people from my town and the surrounding communities find me. My office team and I definitely notice that more people are calling us than did before we implemented this. I also ask new patients how they discovered my office, and many say they found my name through search engines. I have also found that First Call tracking, a service offered by Sesame, has turned out to be very effective; knowing that I can track new patient calls is a great gauge on my return on investment.
DEVELOPING AN ONLINE PRESENCE IS A MUST-DO
It has always been my philosophy that the best way to serve my patients is to keep up with the progressive and innovative techniques that dentistry offers. Being current and ahead of the curve allows me to deliver the highest level of quality patient care. The last 2 years have given me a clearer understanding of what I am paying for. For example, I receive a monthly report that outlines the previous month’s activities, including how many prospective patients called my office or how many people “liked” my page on Facebook. I am also provided with quarterly reports and phone calls, which give me a better understanding of my results. Like most of my peers, I have a difficult time reading and understanding these reports. The fact is, I’m not a very hands-on person—I would rather pay someone to monitor everything for me and make suggestions on improvements. That includes automated reminders, which keep my practice running efficiently and save us valuable time, allowing us to focus on what we do best: dentistry. As a small business owner, the fact that a prospective patient can visit my Facebook page or blog and learn about me and my staff before ever picking up the phone or requesting an appointment through my Web site is crucial to surviving an economic downturn.
I believe the need to stir things up in a down economy is a must, and trying something new and making things easier for my team has really paid off. Having an online presence al-lows me to stay in touch and engage with my patients, and automated patient reminders keep my team focused on treating patients in lieu of doing administrative tasks. Now, we can concentrate on servicing patients and running the office smoothly, and Sesame can do what they do best: keeping my stress level low by helping us effectively market our practice.
If you’re not online, from my experience, I believe strongly that you should be. Your patients and prospective patients are spending more of their time online in this increasingly digitally based and digitally influenced world. Without an online presence, it’s like opening your office without putting up a sign.
Disclosure: Dr. Fang reports no disclosures.